The Block Island Times

Giving Thanks for Clams

By Daniel West | Mar 28, 2011

11/22/10 — Floating 30 yards off the beach I lift my head out of the water, let the snorkel fall from my mouth and take a moments rest to survey the shore. It looks different from this perspective; an unfamiliar angle reveals a new picture of a familiar place.

It’s just a few days before Thanksgiving and I’m out collecting clams to bring back home for the family. If it wasn’t for the thought of a piping hot bowl of clam chowder brewed with fresh Block Island clams I’m not sure I would have braved the 54-degree water.

I’ve lived on the island for a year now and there have been plenty of surprises along the way. Perhaps the most pleasant was discovering that clamming is one of the best ways to see the wetter side of the island.

I had never clammed before moving here, and watching those soggy souls raking through the muck did not spark much desire in me to try; however, I was introduced to a second option for stirring up quahogs that held more appeal — snorkeling.

I really enjoy this method for two reasons. The first is the pirate feeling I get uncovering that organic treasure buried under the sand. When I kick up the bottom with my fins and dive down through the dark cloud of silt I get a jolt of excitement with every littleneck I pull from its hiding place.

The second reason is the scenery. Block Island is a beautiful place above and below, and the Great Salt Pond can hold views equal to the Mohegan Bluffs. It is an amazing habitat for dozens if not hundreds of species and on a good clear day is the best aquarium you will ever visit.

Armed with those two reasons and the promise of thanksgiving chowder I pulled on my five-mil wetsuit, hood, gloves and booties and strolled into the pond feeling every part Steve Zissou and Long John Silver.

Peter Voskamp joined me to collect some scallops, which are abundant in the pond this year; as he stepped into the pond he found a wild oyster, always a good sign for the pond.

It was a calm, sunny day and the pond water was crystal clear. I spent the first few minutes just taking in the view. Silver jellyfish floated near the surface; in my thick wetsuit they posed little danger and were mesmerizing to watch as they billowed around me.

Deeper out the jellies disappeared giving way to huge starfish — some more than a foot in diameter. I dive down for a closer look and my inner monologue takes on a Cousteau-ian accent:

See zee starfeesh ere safe from zee predators of zee vild ocean has grown to incredible size. Zese creatures while beautiful are merciless hunters attacking zee lowly mollusks unable to escape.

There are large spider crabs prowling the deeper water as well. I spotted one munching on a thick starfish leg.

I circle back and head for shallower water. With my site seeing over I kick up my first spot and immediately hit pay dirt. The area was thick with clams, it seemed that no matter where I kicked I would hit keepers — those clams large enough to be taken legally.

I spent the next hour plundering clam beds collecting enough to make every spoon full of soup as thick with clams as the pond was. Each time I go I feel slightly guilty for removing these animals and thinning the herd. However, while I took plenty for my selfish stomach I know that I didn’t even make a dent in what appears to be a booming population.

Eventually the cold water started to infiltrate my thick suit and my feet began to cramp inside booties inside fins so I headed for shore. Pete and I sat on the beach and divided up the booty; I handed him the odd scallop I caught and he passed me some quahogs.

We walked back up the trail to the parking lot our bags heavy with loot and I said to myself: “I like clamming and I like living on an island, which is good because it’s only an island when you look at it from the water.”

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